Does NASCAR's Cup Series Need a Minor League? Brad Keselowski Thinks So
As we already discussed, the race that was the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, which was won by Austin Dillon for his first victory of the season, was a wild affair. An 11-car crash led to a red flag situation and created havoc on the field. Race-time temperature was 97 degrees and with the heat combined with the humidity plus confined spaces, temperatures reached 130 to 140 degrees in the cars. It was as much a battle of attrition as it was one of skill trying to keep the cars on the track. Dillon himself needed a couple of IVs after the race before doing his post-race video call.
Still, while Dillon was celebrating, there was plenty of heat and vitriol directed at another young driver as his lack of situational awareness may well have changed the race with 29 laps to go. Quin Houff, who has been criticized previously for not really paying attention and getting in the way of cars battling for the lead while he’s running several laps down, caused a three-car crash that altered the way the field was. After Ryan Blaney and Denny Hamlin had pitted under green flag conditions, Houff tried to get over from the outside of the track to get down pit road. Ever seen a person try to make a left-hand turn from the right-hand lane when you’re driving around town? That’s basically what we’re talking about. Take a look and see for yourself.
Houff clipped Christopher Bell and banged Matt DiBenedetto before crumpling into the wall in turn 4, leading to Ryan Blaney, Denny Hamlin, Aric Almirola and Chase Elliott all being left a lap down. That group had made pit stops under the green flag, setting up what could have been an exciting finish. Instead, with the yellow flag out, it meant that Dillon and Tyler Reddick could gamble in their pit stops to take the top two spots. They held those spots the rest of the way to finish 1-2 in the race. Afterwards, several drivers were critical about Houff’s driving, with Brad Keselowski the most vocal of the group.
Keselowski went so far as to suggest that there should be a minor league system for NASCAR, similar to what Formula 1 has with their Super License system. Under the Formula 1 system, how much money a driver brings via sponsors is not a factor. Drivers have to have enough points in the Super License system to be even remotely considered for a spot with a regular team on the circuit. Keselowski is of the mindset that a spot on the top circuit for NASCAR is something that should be earned, not handed out to someone just because of bringing money to the table. In a post-race interview, he said:
"One thing I would like to see, and I've been pretty consistent with this, is I would like to see drivers be able to graduate into this level and equally I'd like them to be able to be removed from this level when they have repeated issues. I can't speak enough to the gentleman that had the issue today, but I have seen in the past where drivers that have had this issue multiple times somehow are still here, where I think they should effectively be placed in a lower series or asked to go back to a more minor league level to prove their salt."
DiBenedetto, who ended up finishing 17th in the race, called out Houff after the race as well via his Twitter, saying that “This guy (Houff) having zero awareness ruined our day.” If that wasn’t enough, NASCAR VP of Competition, Scott Miller, weighed in on the event Monday, stating: "I think nobody could argue that it was a very poor decision. Yes, we do review every incident of every race. We didn’t speak to the driver (Sunday) night, but we will before we get going again at Kansas (on Thursday night). Got to do better than that. Racing incident, things are going to happen. Every decision that is made out on the racetrack is an instantaneous, spur-of-the-moment decision, but I think that nobody could argue that it wasn’t a poor one."
So NASCAR is going to speak with Houff about the incident. For his part, Houff admitted that he was in the wrong Sunday night, though he was quick to blame his crew for calling him down pit road late and the fact that he was missing a spotting mirror on the driver’s side of the vehicle.
The 22-year-old Houff is coming off like a petulant child who is too busy blaming everyone and everything else than taking responsibility for his actions. He was nine laps down when the accident took place on lap 306 Sunday. There’s a clear lack of experience when it comes to racing at the highest level or even the ones below the Cup Series. While most guys cut their teeth down in the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series and the Xfinity Series, Houff didn’t go that route. He had just 19 races in the CARS Super Late Model Series, five ARCA races and 10 Xfinity Series races on his ledger before running 17 Cup Series races last season. He has run in all 18 races this season but in his 35 Cup Series runs, he has yet to record a finish better than the 23rd-place showing he had in the Big Machine Hand Sanitizer 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway back on July 5. Houff has crashed in four of those 18 races while last year’s driver for the StarCom Racing 00 car, Landon Cassill, crashed just twice all season. The main reason Houff has the ride is because of the money he brings via sponsors, which is part of Keselowski’s beef.
When you get right down to it, Keselowski has a point. There are some guys that are extremely green and need to hone their craft on the lower circuits until they prove they are worthy of a Cup Series ride. The drivers that are on the circuit are guys who have paid their dues along the way or shown that they are capable of being a contending driver. We haven’t seen that kind of performance from Houff at this stage and his inability to even finish in the top half of the field, much less contend, shows that he isn’t a reliable hand right now. In addition, if your team needs money but you’re causing higher expenses by wrecking more often, how are you benefitting anyone?
Sadly, Keselowski’s concept is probably one that makes too much sense to be implemented. The only other option would be to limit the number of spots down from the 40-car field maximum they have now. That, again, could impact the bottom line and likely wouldn’t be considered either. NASCAR has to find a way to address this situation before something more costly takes place.